South Carolina will begin a four-part coronavirus testing program that focuses on identifying how much of the state’s population has been infected by the virus, starting with testing all residents and staff members of nursing homes in the state.
Gov. Henry McMaster announced Wednesday that South Carolina has received federal funding and supplies to test 2% of the state’s population, and the focus will begin with 40,000 nursing home residents and staff. The testing will begin next week and is expected to be completed by the end of the month.
To date, South Carolina has tested about 1.25% of its population – one of the lowest testing rates of any state in the country. A WFAE analysis found that is the second-to-worst rate out of all 50 states.
In data released Wednesday, South Carolina reported that 77,482 tests had been completed by state and private labs. Of those, 6,936 have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 305 people in the state have died.
The next phases of the testing plan will focus on expanding testing in underserved minority and rural communities, mass testing in urban areas and finding additional testing areas.
The goal is to complete 110,000 tests per month over the next two months, for 2% of the population.
“I’m not sure there’s anything magical about 2%,” said DHEC Director of Public Health Joan Duwve. “It’s almost twice as many tests as we have done since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in South Carolina, so it’s a significant number. It’s mainly determined by the testing capacity we’ll have.”
Additionally, the state plans to hire 1,000 contact tracers to better gauge where the coronavirus might have been spread by those infected with it. Currently, they have hired 230 contact tracers, Duwve said.
McMaster said that understanding how prevalent the coronavirus is in the state will be a key to opening up all facets of the state.
“The disease has been chasing us and now we’re chasing the disease,” he said. “It is that knowledge that will enable us to open up.”
On Monday, South Carolina began allowing outdoor dining at restaurants, provided patrons were socially distanced. McMaster said they are monitoring when the state can began opening more areas of the economy.
“We hope to be able to announce something before the week is out about some future dates,” McMaster said.
Duwve stressed that just because testing will be increased doesn't mean that South Carolinians can stop being careful.
"Just because we’re increasing testing in our communities doesn’t mean we should stop the social distancing we have been doing," she said. "It doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about hand hygiene. We should stay home if you feel sick. Wearing a mask in public is critically important beucase you may not know if you’re infected, you may not know if the person in front of you or next to you is infected."
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